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The Trouble with Brett Kavanaugh: “Founding Father Knows Best”


by: Peter Gabel on July 10th, 2018 | 2 Comments »

Swearing-in Ceremony for Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Image courtesy of the White House.

Do you believe that the contours of your relationship with other people should be determined by a group of 20- and 30 year-olds living 250 years ago? This is what Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump’s new Supreme Court Justice pick, actually does believe. He believes this because even though he seems like a nice-enough, personable, normal-seeming fellow, as a boy, he was conditioned to believe in a collective fantasy that he is part of an imaginary “we” whose relations with each other are to be determined by the “intent of the Founding Fathers.” In other words, at a certain point in his childhood, perhaps in his eighth-grade civics class but to some degree even earlier, through rituals like the pledge of allegiance to the red-and-blue cloth in the front of the room, he came to split his consciousness in two. In his direct experience of real others like his family and schoolmates, he lived in the “personal” life that he still lives today; but in his imaginary life, he became to some extent hypnotized to think that he was “one of the we” who were created by earlier Beings invested with majesty and unique prescience, and whose intent we must follow today.

Antonin Scalia, when he was alive, gave a lengthy talk to the collectively delusional Federalist Society, explaining what he considered a rational basis for this “Original Intent” theory of interpreting the Constitution. In that talk, he said that we cannot trust each other and cannot know what each other want in life, and therefore the only way to determine how we must relate to others, to determine how we are “constituted” in “the Constitution,” is by looking to the exact words of the document itself, that piece of parchment still held under glass in a museum in Philadelphia. Evidently at the moment of the signing of that document, to Scalia, “we” momentarily existed together and reached agreement as to who “we” were. And since that’s the last time “we” were truly connected, we must apply “the law” based on what the 21 year-old Alexander Hamilton and the 25 year-old James Madison, and others of these “founding fathers” thought at that time.

That is why Brett Kavanaugh thinks that, say, 21 year-olds today have the right to own semi-automatic weapons. “We” (in the imaginary world that Kavanaugh is partly living in) cannot take away their so-called Second Amendment Right to do so according to the meaning of that Amendment’s words that is “found” by today’s robed figures sitting elevated from everyone else in the Supreme Court building using their supposed specialized training that has prepared them to project back into the minds of the larger-than-life “founding fathers” living in 1789. Never mind that the actual words of the Second Amendment seem likely to mean the opposite of what Kavanaugh thinks, the point I’m making here is that Kavanaugh believes the effort to limit mass murders in the United States today is dependent upon, and severely restricted by, the magical pronouncements of young men existing “at the dawn of our nation”.

All the discussion in the press about “originalism” and “textualism” as some kind of legal philosophy comes down to a collective “belief” – really a hallucination of sorts – of this kind. It is the story of grownups today, mainly men, who feel we cannot create our really existing social world out of our own freedom and moral convictions, but rather must defer to our Father, to our founding fathers. If this contributes to the killing of 17 high-school children in Parkland, Florida, or 20 six and seven year-olds in Newtown, Connecticut, it cannot be helped; it’s out of our hands.

If we want to create a loving and caring world based upon our inherent goodness, based upon our desire for authentic mutual recognition of each other’s beautiful humanity, then we have to relinquish any residual belief in magical documents written by magical fathers and the like. We have to do it ourselves and take the spiritual and social actions necessary to bring that loving world into being.

For more on the “the law”, and on the imaginary nature of legal narratives, and on their origin in our fear of other people whom we also long to love, please see my book The Desire for Mutual Recognition, chapter 5 (“Language, Thought, Ideology”) and chapter 7 (“Politics as the Struggle Over Who ‘We’ Are”).


Peter Gabelis editor-at-large ofTikkunand the author most recently ofThe Desire for Mutual Recognition, published by Routledge Press.

The Holocaust Did Not Begin with Killing; it Began with Words


by: Warren J. Blumenfeld on July 9th, 2018 | 3 Comments »

St. Louis surrounded by smaller vessels in the port of Havana

The St. Louis surrounded by smaller vessels in the port of Havana. Photo courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Among the numerous Facebook group pages to which I subscribe, some focus exclusively on issues of concern to members of Jewish communities throughout the world. A few of the Facebook pages serve as forums for specifically children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. On these pages, very contentious debates (more like arguments with some people lodging insults) are centering on reactions to U.S. President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric as they apply specifically to his administration’s immigration dictums.

Some people strongly support Trump for his outspoken support for the nation of Israel and for his “bold and decisive action” in moving the U.S. embassy to the eternal city of Jerusalem. While others declare that this action puts a final nail in the coffin of an already stalled and dying peace process and places Israel in greater danger.

Discussion has more recently erupted regarding Trump’s immigration tactics, and specifically his policy of locking up refugees seeking a better life and separating them from their children for weeks and months at a time. Several people on Facebook write such things as “they are breaking the law and they should be locked up and deported back to their own countries.”

Others, though, understand their plight and are pleading compassion. As descendants of Holocaust survivors, they (we) can see clear parallels between the trauma of our relatives and that of this generation’s refugee populations. When we, though, discuss what we understand as these parallels, others on Facebook attack us for “trivializing the Holocaust,” as “feeding into the hands of the Holocaust deniers,” or of “jeopardizing Trump’s support for Israel” the more we speak out against his policies.

Someone wrote:”Don’t you DARE compare temporary separation of children from their parents for illegal activity with the MURDER of people for nothing more than their beliefs or color or intellectual ability. The parents of these children are doing ILLEGAL activities. They are arrested. The children have food and shelter.”

I feel I need to speak out to the larger Jewish community in the clearest of terms.


The Uses of Appropriation


by: on July 9th, 2018 | No Comments »

Audre Lorde famously said it, “[T]he master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” She went on: “They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” The essay was based on a 1979 panel presentation responding to a feminist movement dominated by those who opposed sexism but benefited in other ways from the existing social order. She warns a liberationist movement against reproducing the racial, economic, and other privilege-based operating assumptions of the dominant society, lest it fall far short of its potential to catalyze a more loving, just, equitable, and vibrant society.

Sometimes I like to adopt an alien view, to pretend I’m watching from outer space as we humans scurry across the face of the earth, billions of intelligent two-legged ants. What is getting them so excited now? What tools are being wielded with what intentions? And are they shoring up the master’s house or dismantling it?

In our little corner of the planet, my alien self picks up a loud buzz about appropriation. What’s that? In ordinary English the verb can mean many things: to set aside or authorize funds, to seize or steal something. In art worlds, the word has a fairly flat meaning and a heightened one. The flatter version covers things like Marcel Duchamp’s “readymades,” in which ordinary objects are renamed, repositioned, and exhibited as art. His most famous example was the 1917 Fountain, a porcelain urinal set on a pedestal and signed R. Mutt. Ever since, a huge amount of modern and contemporary visual art has included appropriated elements.

Appropriation is so common in popular music that a new word was chosen to represent it: sampling. There’s a nicely detailed account of Biz Markie’s losing a suit over a sample of “Alone Again,” one of many such cases in the early 90s challenging musicians’ right to use snippets of others’ copyrighted songs without prior permission. Rick James sued MC Hammer for sampling “Superfreak” on his hit, “U Can’t Touch This,” to cite one example among hundreds. The most recent cases turn on uses of as little as two words. But mostly, these are financial transactions having less to do with moral rights and more with getting paid. Reaching a financial settlement is almost always the endgame.

The heightened meaning of “appropriation” is cultural theft. The accusation is frequently made against artists—but also entrepreneurs and corporations—adopting and profiting by something emblematic of a culture not their own. “Cultural appropriation” is the full moniker, but mostly it gets shortened by omitting the first word.


Suffer the Little Children


by: Michael Bader on July 5th, 2018 | No Comments »

Painting of a photo which has come to symbolize the US Trump administration current Zero Tolerance immigration policy.

Painting of a photo which has come to symbolize the US Trump administration current Zero Tolerance immigration policy. Painting by Dan Lacey.

Sometimes it seems that it took images of crying toddlers and grieving mothers to mobilize Americans against Donald Trump and his Right-wing enablers. Of course, there has certainly been a “resistance” to Trump before now, but nothing like what erupted following the implementation of Trump’s zero tolerance policy. Notwithstanding, the current Right-wing echo chamber’s cynical spin about these news stories, the outpouring of spontaneous indignation about forced family separations at the border spanned the political spectrum. Christian evangelicals, the UN Commission on Human Rights, several Republican lawmakers, and even the Pope were all upset and angry. The depiction of children who lost their mothers sparked greater and more intense resistance than most of Trump’s other offensive and provocative initiatives.

It’s worth noting that we didn’t see that same degree of passion about children who were about to lose their health insurance last year.

We certainly don’t read much about the heartbreaking lot of latchkey children raised in families headed by single mothers working for stagnant wages, barely making ends meet, or children raised by parents addicted to opiates. These kids will never appear on the cover of Time Magazine. The media doesn’t cover what Richard Sennett and Jonathan Cobb once called the “hidden injuries of class.” Instead, the media dotes on the latest news about Robert Mueller and Michael Cohen. And as they do so, the Left and Right inevitably settle into their own tribal tents.

Why doesn’t the plight of the 16 million children currently being raised in poverty elicit the outrage that these children at the border do? Why exactly did so many people seem to wake up to the cruelty of Trump and the Republican Party when immigrant families were broken up?

On one level, it certainly seems that the abstract facts of poverty, social injustice, and the unequal distribution of wealth don’t elicit the deep psychological reflexes that are triggered by the stories and pictures of real panicked and grief stricken individual children. The former is suffering at a distance; the latter is up close and highly personal.

These reflexes and triggers are not uniquely American, nor do they have anything at all to do with American values. Instead, I think that our moral outrage reflects the universal importance of attachment in human life – the central importance of the earliest connections between parents – especially mothers – and children. Child development experts have warned us for a long time that any disruption to such ties in the course of development results in tremendous grief and distress, and if the rupture is great enough, it causes significant trauma that indelibly damages children’s brain development and psyches. Research has shown that significant disruptions of attachment result in later life in an increase of cardiovascular disease, anxiety disorders, addiction, criminality, depression, obesity, and suicide.

I believe that we react so strongly to stories of broken attachments because all of us have experienced, even in the best of circumstances, some version, some degree, of exactly such a loss. When we see it on television, it resonates with unconscious reservoirs of grief and trauma in all of us.


Faith in the Face of Bad Faith


by: on July 4th, 2018 | No Comments »

Shortly after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, very shortly after, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) decided that the Senate would not consider a replacement nominated by President Barack Obama, he not only demonstrated bad faith, but he also showed that he does not function out of a duty to the Constitution of the United States. Worse, to cover up his naked disregard for the Constitution and his disregard for good faith understood as fair play, he used words from a speech given by Joe Biden when he was in the senate taken out of context to craft a fig-leaf, some non-existent something called the Biden Rule.

According to McConnell’s lie, the Biden Rule says that the Senate ought not to consider a Supreme Court nominee in an election year. McConnell said “the people” ought to decide who would make the next pick. Clearly McConnell and his invertebrate GOP minions in the Senate who lied then and continue to lie now, who are participants in a theft of a Supreme Court seat, have forgotten that we live in the age of fact checking, that there is video tape that allows us to see what Biden actually said.

First, according to PolitiFacts, the context of Biden’s remarks was very different. When Biden spoke about this in 1992, there was no vacancy on the Court. Biden made his remarks thinking of the toxic political climate at the time and suggested that if a vacancy were to occur, that the process ought to wait until after the election. Second, there was no recommendation that President Bush the elder not fill the vacancy. Biden spoke about compromise in the event that Bill Clinton won the election. (http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2016/mar/17/context-biden-rule-supreme-court-nominations/)

Beyond the lies that McConnell told about the so-called Biden Rule, some people want to say that McConnell’s move to end the filibuster rule for Supreme Court nominations is the next logical step from the action taken by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2013 to end the filibuster for nominations to the federal judiciary below the Supreme Court. This again is an analysis that does not consider the context.

Some of us do not live in the United States of Amnesia. We remember 2013 and before that. We remember the 2009 inauguration night conspiracy where Republican leaders of Congress met at dinner to conspire to obstruct EVERYTHING President Obama would propose. This while President and Mrs. Obama were dancing at the various inauguration balls. This while the nation was facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, while fighting two wars.

Mitch McConnell did not attend this dinner, but he announced that his primary goal was to make President Obama a one-term president, and the Republicans in the Senate did all they could to not only stop President Obama’s legislative efforts, but to stop his nominations for cabinet positions and for judgships. The unprecedented obstruction continued after President Obama won a second term. This is why Reid and the Democrats who were in the majority changed the rule.

When the Republicans won the majority in 2014, they had the numbers to take obstruction to its ultimate by refusing to allow President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court the respect of a hearing and a vote. During the 2016 election, more than one Republican senator spoke of refusing to give a hearing or a vote to anyone who Hillary Clinton would nominate if she were to win. For McConnell and the Republicans to talk about the nonexistent Biden Rule or to blame their obstruction on Harry Reid is disingenuous in the extreme. The refusal of the majority of one body to do its job was probably unthinkable to the founders.

So, McConnell is a liar and a thief. He and his colleagues failed to honor the Constitution that they are sworn to defend. Here is the oath of office for United States senators:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.” (https://www.cop.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Oath_Office.htm)

Regarding nominations to the Court, the Constitution says in Article II Section 2 describing presidential powers:

“. . . and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law.” (https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/constitution-transcript)

There is nothing here about an exception for an election year. The people voiced their preference during the previous election, and the president’s term is four years.


The Hidden Who Uphold The World


by: on June 30th, 2018 | No Comments »


Rabbi Abraham Heschel, presenting Judaism and World Peace award to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A friend posted on Facebook, sharing the fatigue and demoralization she had been fighting as she sorted through old papers documenting her journey in the last few decades of the progressive movement in this country: the ideas appropriated without credit; the individuals whose own sense of entitlement blinded them to the injuries they inflicted; the surplus ego, the embedded pathways of patriarchy, and more, much more.

She touched my heart in the tender place of my own questioning, and I wrote back:

The challenge of remaining whole amidst the brokenness is formidable. The challenge of holding all these contradictions is fatiguing. It may not be much consolation to be seen as one who helps to shift the energies, inside and out, by speaking these truths, but you are such a one. There is a Jewish legend of the 36 just ones (the Lamed-Vav Tzaddikim) who by their existence uphold the world. It is not given to anyone to know who they are, but we are asked to live as if life itself depended on us, as if we were among the 36. Love and honor to you for answering this call, my friend.

You see, her words brought to mind the legend of the 36 Just Ones – The Lamed-Vav Tzaddikim in Hebrew – who by their righteousness uphold the existence of the world. In Jewish mysticism, the story goes that if at any time the total number of these pillars of existence were to fall below 36, the world would end, as together they constitute an ironclad argument to the Divine that humanity is worth the trouble.


Stand Up and Be Heard This Weekend and Beyond


by: Cat Zavis on June 28th, 2018 | No Comments »

Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse, the Supreme Court upholds Trump’s Muslim ban, and guts public sector unions; and now, Supreme Court Justice Kennedy has announced  his retirement, giving Trump the opportunity to appoint a more extreme rightist to the Court. These are dark times indeed.

Fascist ideas and racist practices are on the rise in our country and as soon as Trump appoints a new Supreme Court justice, many more of our basic freedoms will unravel and be eroded in the name of “limited government” and “judicial restraint.”

So, we must challenge these developments in every non-violent way we can. We must stand up. We must be counted. In the short-term, we must show up at protests and rallies. For example, there are rallies planned around the country this coming Saturday. We at the Network of Spiritual Progressives will be joining with many others to insist that families belong together and to oppose the inhumane ways that the Trump Administration is dealing with people seeking refuge from oppression elsewhere. (Click here to find events near you).

Photo from recent immigration rally in Oakland, CA.

We have created flyers and posters you can print and bring to the events. (Click here for the flyer and here for the posters.) Please send us photos (to chris@tikkun.org) so we can share them with others. Knowing there are others joining our efforts uplifts us all. In addition, we need to help get out the vote in November and in many places in the U.S. it would be very valuable to have ordinary citizens going door-to-door and initiating conversations with our neighbors about what is happening to America and why we need to stand up and defend democracy, human rights, and basic human decency at this moment when they are all under attack. We know that doing that can sometimes feel scary and take a lot of energy, but that will be a whole lot less scary than what we will face if the U.S. continues down the path that the ultra-Right wing has been pushing forward in the past years.

And, as I’ve said before, none of this is enough. We must also work even harder to raise consciousness and build a spiritually progressive social change movement that puts forward a vision of the world we want based on a New Bottom Line of love, care, kindness, generosity, social/economic/environmental justice, compassion, and environmental sanity. It’s only when we can transform our own movements’ discourse so that it includes this larger vision of what we are for (and not just what we are against) that we have any chance of changing the political realities in the U.S.  These are urgent times indeed and we must respond to the urgency with both immediate actions and long-term solutions.


The Big Lie


by: on June 23rd, 2018 | 4 Comments »

What is “The Big Lie” and why is the Present Occupant of the White House so committed and adept at deploying it?

When Hitler coined the expression “The Big Lie,” he meant it as an accusation against German Jews, charging them in Mein Kampf with falsely condemning Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff for losing World War I due to his strategic errors in the spring offensive of 1918, after which he was forced to leave his post.

Ludendorff retaliated by working overtime to blame defeat not on losses in battle under his command, but on Jews and Communists, whom he saw as a powerful internal enemies. As history shows, his Big Lie triumphed in the court of public opinion. As World War II ramped up, Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels used the term to characterize the British relationship to public opinion, accusing them of telling a big lie and sticking no matter what.

Mostly, though, we hear the term in relation to Nazi Germany’s own propaganda, as in this characterization of Hitler from the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (predecessor to the present-day Central Intelligence Agency) during the war:

His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.


REVIVAL Album Spreads Love and Hope


by: Robin Kopf on June 22nd, 2018 | No Comments »

Just in time for LGBT+ Pride weekend in San Francisco and New York City, the live folk-rock show, REVIVAL, has released an album as of June 21st.

Part of the spirit of Pride is modeling a world that focuses more on love and less on fear and hatred. REVIVAL‘s story based songs do just this – they send messages of healing, spirituality, joy, faith, and caring for the world we live in.

REVIVAL started out as a performance by singers Lea Kalisch and Julia Ostrov, violinist Samantha Gillogly, guitarist Ugene Romashov, and percussionist Anna Wray, all based in or around New York City. The music and lyrics were written by Kristen Plylar-Moore in the wake of the 2016 presidential election and they began performing the show in late 2016.


Traumatizing Young Children


by: Peter Gabel on June 19th, 2018 | 3 Comments »

How can Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions and their supporters, including the ICE workers who engage in the actual behavior, tear small children away from their parents and warehouse them in detention facilities, subjecting these children to trauma and a horrifying sense of shock and loss from which some may never recover?

Border Patrol agent conducts a pat down of a woman at a holding facility

Border Patrol agent conducts a pat down at a holding facility. Photo courtesy of US Department of Homeland Security.

The answer to this is that Trump and his co-participants do not actually experience either themselves or the children as fully human.  Instead, they are withdrawn into themselves, their hearts hardened by a lifetime of conditioning to be fearful of others, and that fear is then displaced onto a mental tableau in which they imagine themselves to be part of an “us” that is being infiltrated by a “them”, who are “crossing the border” without permission. “The border” is supposed to separate us and them, but it is being violated, threatening to reveal our underlying vulnerability to being humiliated by other human beings, indeed the very person next to us wherever we are. We have been thus humiliated in the past, and we must not allow that to occur again. And that fear of humiliation leads these hardened humans to withdraw from the actual world of lived experience suffused with the natural empathy that flows from existing in this real world of beautiful vulnerability, and to pretend, mentally, that they are living in an imaginary world consisting of more-or-less full-time protectionist fantasies.

In this latter hallucinated milieu, the rationale of “deterring the immigrants who are crossing the border” answers the pull, coming from the open heart of Being itself, to recognize the psychic violence being done to these children. Trump and Sessions and the millions who support their policy co-intentionally suppress their recognition of the actual humanity of these children beneath an imaginary shield-tableau in which the children are “dehumanized” just as Trump and Sessions have dehumanized themselves. Hardened against the legacy of fear of humiliation that turns like a worm inside them, they express over and over again their determination not to re-open themselves to any human being, those others who “bring drugs, who bring crime, who are rapists.”

For more on this tragic phenomenon that can only be resolved by a healing revolution that may already be occurring, see Chapters 2-4 of my book The Desire for Mutual Recognition on fear of the other and the construction of imaginary communities.


Peter Gabel  is editor-at-large of Tikkun and the author most recently of The Desire for Mutual Recognition, published by Routledge Press.